collaborations from VOCES 1… / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

PROSPERITY AND KINDNESS: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN of the Enlightenment Marti

Mirta Suquet

HAVING studied in Cuba, in this world of relative certainties they built for us during the eighties, and having subsequently completed a course at the University of Havana, many doors opened in advance.

The fame of Cuban university graduates is recognized and praised, and not undeservedly, in any part of the world. The intensity with which we studied in those years in the High School of Sciences, might seem, to my Spanish colleagues today, excessive, stemming from a mythomaniacal mind — in this case mind — and I prefer to remain quiet about it. Even more, I prefer to silence the stoicism with which we studied; the skinniness of that time in which my uniform skirt was gradually, with unaesthetic tweezers, being taken in while my waist diminished. The years of that invention, surely ineffective, of yellow rice colored with Vitamin B pills. (I don’t know if the vitamin complex would be blended in during the cooking process, which surely would annul the benefits of the additive, or if it was added at the end like salsa, not exactly Creole.)

In those years, the Cuban pharmaceutical company began developing the Multivit, and as my brother had been lying in bed for a few months with an intense siege of something called “neuritis” or “beriberi” (or perhaps it was known with certainty what it was?) I ingested them with discipline and devotion. Vitamins would guarantee that my neurons would continue functioning, and thus I would achieve a high score on the IPVCE exam, and my access to university. The Utopia being developed in the image of space flight, allowed is to replace food with capsules.  But hunger was stronger than humans and sugar water preparations were an effective remedy in such cases.

Also,I have to admit, we always had breakfast even if just a quarter of a bread roll, perfectly round and small, at times cut in front of us so we could see that the partition was fair, what we came to call “Marti bread”: “With all and for the good of all.” And at lunch, cabbage soup, the croquettes made with one “macrobiotic” (?!) pig which was distributed equally to thousands of students in the four units that made up the school; and for dinner the same again. It was as if we lived on air.

Instead, we survived expanding our vital intensity to unsuspected limits. We didn’t give up the marches, parades, danced, field work and study. We resisted and asked the body to withstand double sacrifices: that we wouldn’t faint and we wouldn’t fail, that our fevered heads about support our projects and goals. The year 2000 was ours, and we were building a better and more prepared society. No doubt.

Wasting away was the quixotic ideal of the revolutionary left, the intellectual dreamer, the vanguard of bohemian transgressive. The belly would distinguish from the hoarding and pedestrian bourgeoisie of the refined aristocracy; it was, from the time of Cervantes’s text, the symbol of baseness and ignorance. As the gentleman tells his squire: “I, Sancho, was born to live dying, and you to die eating.” To live dying, to die eating, a pun too well-known by Cubans and sung as a hymn of war.

The Revolution leased out, by dint of food hardships, this well codified semiotic. In those years, the belly could be the footprint of a diversion of resources, illicit enrichment. Today it is the corporal mark of bad nutrition, the return of bread, rich sauces, while anorexic Europe boasts of its defatted food.

I remember on one occasion, we were promised that the semester’s pig would be given to the most outstanding group of the school for their members to have a party and invite their relatives. To promise this in 1993 was like announcing a day in paradise with a round-trip ticket. The group chosen was ours, after we had excelled in all the challenges of the competition. And days before the fiesta they canceled the invitations to our families — because only the city fathers would have the privilege of attending — and bit by bit we they were gilding the pill until from that pig we barely saw the croquettes. Faced with our protests, the director shamed us, “Arguing about a plate of cracklings!” and adding, “The true revolutionary does not live to eat, but rather he eats to live.”

I swear I repeated that phrase many times as a talisman against gluttony. And I searched for it in Marti’s work without finding it, until one day I found in The Miser by Molière, with an erudite footnote that said he was a Latin adage: “ede ut vivas, ne vivas ut edas.” In the play, one of the characters, Valerio gives Harpagon cooking lessons on how to make a dinner with little money: “We have to serve things that one can eat just a little of and be satisfied at the beginning… Some good beans, a little cake with chestnuts.” Infallible method: A plate of black beans!

Instead, the phrase of Marti that can be read in every Cuban classroom was that which prescribed what the purpose of culture should be: Freedom. To be educated is to be free.

Culture and freedom are terms written in determined contextual repertories of the Marti maxim, anchored in an ahistorical eternity, signifying almost nothing. They are two of the most productive concepts inherited from the control technologies of Modernity that, established as absolute, have obscured the ideology through which such signs become operative. The Enlightenment belief supposes a free will anchored in knowledge, but today we know that just “knowing” is the domain in which we are instituted like predetermined subjects, and that free will has ceased to be, long ago, a tangible possibility.

In any case, following Foucault, culture is a space of intervention and resistance — where the micro-physics of power is exercised — precisely because it is the network where systems of social identification are built. Freedom, in contrast, is, however minimally, that moment of resistance, of permanent tension that makes us constantly moving, as subjects, toward the absolute but always unattainable aspiration of power: the immobility. And as we move, we cancel the perfect definition.

The resistance — and the freedom — in the present moment we are living, strictly speaking, or primarily, comes through the resistance of the body. I am not speaking of official resistance, that asked for in exchange for collapses and massive holocausts, but the daily resistance, the only way to guarantee a minimum of freedom, and that includes, as strategies, the bazaar, the black market, improvisation, the scam. The search for alternatives to finding ways to live and parallel or compensatory happiness. To resist and resolve. To resolve to continue resisting. (Seen like this, the culture understood as erudition doesn’t guarantee, in the national terrain, any liberty. Other type of culture is imposed to manage to survive: the “struggle.”)

In the article “Traveling Teachers” from which the Marti precept is extracted, the idea of a human telos directed toward satisfying the desires of the body — the previously mentioned “live to eat” — is also repudiated: “Most men have slept on the ground. They ate and drank, but did not know. (…) Men are still eating machines, and relics of their worries.” Indeed, if we reverse the sentence it would say: when a relic of worries — among them, and critically, lack of food — torment man, he becomes an “eating machine.”

The obsession with the lack of food was what made us talk all day about impossible foods and sign in unison at the movies faced with a succulent scene. In Paradiso, the food leads us to a huge spinning mill that we barely dream faced with the appetizing proliferation of ingredients and dishes that mingle in the “gossá familia,” this metaphysical orgy in which entails all pleasures. Our table, small and dingy, no long assuming an enjoyment that promises a long-lasting, detailed tasting of unexpected combinations: new species, new textures and rhythms of swallowing and, what is most regrettable, no longer reconnects as the purest of religions: it does not encourage conversation until that state of light in which the dialog fills the ear like a crustacean fills the mouth. Colonel Cemi said, around the laden table: “The pleasure, that is for me a moment of clarity, presupposes dialog. (…) Without this dialog we’re invaded by a sensation of fragmentary vulgarity around the things we eat.”

With anguish, I recognize in Paradiso the mirage that counteracts the radiant poverty of Lezama, the real hunger of the writer, as Reynaldo González remembers in the program of Amaury Pérez, “With two that is wanted.” According to González, when he took his piece of meat, he went to the house of Lezama and sacrificed it in feeding not just the “spirit” of the teacher.

It happens, however, that we return to Marti’s phrase that combines culture and freedom to comment on a serious sin of omission. The phrase, in reality, is a kind of syllogism with three indispensable propositions that concatenated: “To be good is the only way to be happy. To be educated is the only way to be free. But in common human nature, one must prosper to be good.” Or, and it’s the same thing, prosperity would be the basis of this ethical edifice in which, after reaching well-being, one could be good (and, thus, happy) and learned (and, thus, free). “And the only way,” Marti continues, “open to continued and easy prosperity is that of knowledge, cultivating and taking advantage of the inexhaustible and indefatigable elements of nature.”

Close the idea, and return the role of knowledge, in this case, applied: culture is associated in its etymological sense to cultivate, fertilizing prosperity through work and the effective enjoyment of the goods we possess. This would make us prosperous and, again, free and good. (Marti, in turn, does not advocate that the farmer abandon the furrow to become learned; that the fields be filled with the invasive marabou weed while the minds are cultivated, but that a kind of “traveling teacher” goes to where the workers are, offering alternative knowledge.)

That goodness is related to prosperity (the bonanza) is not a contradiction — as revolutionary ethics almost always claimed, confident in the formative value of misery — though neither is it an a priori. But individual fulfillment offering prosperity (and not exactly for the well-being involved, but for the process of finding well-being) might make us better, but this feels like something out of a self-help manual.

We remember that the word “prosperous” comes from the Latin properus-a-um, endowed with the prefix “pro” (forward, in favor), and the Indo-European root spe. The Latin word spes (esperanza – hope) contain t same root. Etymologically “prosperous” means, then, going toward the expected, or as expected. Prosperity is the favorable course of an action or performance the success of a business and no, necessarily, an enrichment that embarrasses of discredits the owner. Rich, or wealth, however, come from the archaic German riks — the origin of the word reich — and have the Indo-European root reg (rey — king — regent); which means that in this case, the link between Power and peculiar seem to be contained in its origins. Villagers could never be rich — nor the farmers Marti refers to in the cited article — but they could be prosperous.

What my present colleagues don’t know is that the learning itself came to us with blood, or better yet, with hunger, and when we had to read so many books it helped to forge us as philologists, lying on the bunks of the dorm at F and 3rd with barely any toast and some tea in our bellies.

To have studied in Cuba was a real privilege. To have been a student of brilliant professors who throughout my life tried to make up for what the body lacked with the illusions of culture. They also gradually grew thinner; some seemed to expire after the lesson and continued to cling to their barely paying jobs. I remember our joy in some “little jaunt” we would have coincidentally sent some professor who never traveled on, so he could “recover.” On his return he told us proudly he had saved a lot of money and so was able to buy some books that were needed for the Department. And in fact, he might have gained a few pounds, barely changing his usual clothes, from some used clothing store, just like ours.

Today, much of what I owe to him, is not my enjoyment of the letters, but my quixotic taste for teaching (hard-fought labor, as everyone knows, with wealth, but not necessarily with prosperity), is not on the faculty. And I’m viscerally sorry that the students don’t have the opportunity to know the lean body and feverish agitation of Salvador Redonet; the almost mystical consecration of Ofelia García Cortiña; the folksy simplicity of Amaury Carbón,with his white, almost transparent, guayabera; the strength of Nara Araújo, full of farewell projects, and others many of whom have died in recent years, in full harness. Or the clueless genius of Beatriz Maggi, the stoic resistance of Teresa Delgado, the humility of Lupe Ordaz, and so many others who have retired or withdrawn from the institution. To their classes, one had to go, even when all you’d had to eat that day was a packet of peanuts bought from the nearest seller.

Now, I don’t know if with the plan for “emerging teachers,” some child could appreciate, in twenty years, the education received and the initial stages, the most important. I don’t know if the mere fact of having studied in Cuba will continue to be praiseworthy. I don’t even know what the motivations are that today drive young people to study: I suppose they are not the same as they were for us, or perhaps better. I trust that the profession that formed you could be exercised in society and that, once you have reached competency, it opens the doors to you to reach the necessary and earned reward. The prosperity that, according to Marti, would make us good and happy. That which does not conform with an old norm in which one has to decide whether to feed the body or the spirit.

August 11, 2010

Cuban Counter-Intelligence Demands Respect for the Military / Iván García

Military institutions always produce fear.  Even if they treat you with respect.  This past Monday, August 9th, Havana looked a lot like London.  A thin and bothersome rain had been pouring down all day, so much so that even our bones were soaked.

Saturday, the 7th, a State Security official had dropped off a citation for an interview with Colonel Enrique from Military Counter-Intelligence.

At around 9 in the morning, I arrived at the armed forces center, where they train elite troops. A friendly official offered me a rain coat and then led me to a building painted in lime green with light red trimmings.

The building looked like a detention center.  A young chubby man led me to a small waiting room, but first he asked me to turn in my cell phone.

The room was tiny and consisted of metal furniture with black leather.  The A/C was turned up to the max.  Apparently, the measures to save energy are strictly enforced throughout the country, but not in this military unit.

Colonel Livan, from Military Counter-Intelligence, and a major dressed in civilian clothes (and who said his name was Aguila and that he was from State Security) were my amiable interrogators.  After taking down some notes, they got straight to the point.

They were upset because of an article I wrote entitled “The liberation of the political prisoners reinforces the role of the Cuban military“, which was published in the newspaper El Mundo (‘The World’) on July 14th.  According to the officials, in the article I gravely discredited Cuban military institutions.

A debate began.  I alleged that it was my personal opinion.  They respected my opinion, but felt that I had been subjected in appreciating the role of certain generals.

“Cuba is a country of rights, and before reaching any penal sanctions, we warn people as many time as we must,” major Aguila told me in a low and neutral voice.

I jumped up like a spring.  “Do you think that in a country of rights a person gets cited for writing a newspaper article?” I asked him frankly.

“In other countries they don’t cite you, they kill you,” interupted Colonel Livan.  Both officials made it clear to me that, although there is some level of tolerance towards the independent press and the opposition, permissiveness should not be confused with impunity.

We never agreed on who was right.  It wasn’t about that.  I explained my reasons to them as a man who feels free enough to write and have different opinions from the official discourse.

I consider it to be my right.  They didn’t oppose that.  They asked me to have more respect when it came down to judging the “brave armed forces which have gained so much prestige worldwide for their struggle in liberating other countries.”

Whatever the case may be, it was not a dialogue of the deaf.  At one point, I suggested to Colonel Livan that, if he wished, he could write a reply and that I would be in charge of sending it to El Mundo so they could publish it.  This was after I pointed out that the website receives over 24 million views.

After his initial astonishment at the invitation, he told me that Cuban military institutions do not need to engage in a debate with a simple journalist over such a specific subject.

In the end they cited me with a “Warning,” where the officials wrote down their motives and I wrote mine.  They said goodbye and told me I could leave.  And I did so under an intermittant rain.

In sum, the Cuban special services wish to send a direct message to the dissidence and independent journalists.  There is a fine line that cannot be crossed.

The point is that they don’t even know which are the frontiers that cannot be trespassed.  Even though both officials were actually kind, soldiers always produce fear.  And don’t ask me why.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.

August 10, 2010

Island Authorities Serve Notice That They Will Not Stop The Repression / Laritza Diversent

Following the release of 21 political prisoners, the Cuban government insists on reminding the dissidents and independent journalists that they will continue their repressive policies. On the morning of this past August 9th, Military Counterintelligence and State Security agents summoned independent journalist Iván García for an interview.

The official summons is one of the means used by law enforcement agencies to intimidate dissidents. Generally, the authorities do not comply with the legal requirements for carrying out this judicial undertaking. In their conduct they are acting on their own and in disrespect of the law.

The officials claim that the reporter “discredited” military entities in one of his articles published in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. To defame, denigrate, or disparage the institutions of the Republic, the mass organizations or social policies of the country, or the heroes and martyrs of the homeland, is considered by the criminal code to be a crime against public order. But they preferred to give an official warning.

The record of official warning, in the legal system, is a cumulative precedent that justifies the future implementation of a judicial procedure for pre-criminal dangerousness for antisocial behavior. Penalties can reach up to 4 years imprisonment, and this is one of the criminal charges most frequently used against people who disagree.

General of the Army Raul Castro, in his speech on August 1st regarding the release of 52 political prisoners convicted in 2003, warned that “there will be no impunity for the enemies of the fatherland.” García believes that officers who attended were given extended words of the President of the Councils of State and Ministers.

This past August 5th, the day of the 16th anniversary of the “Maleconazo” – the popular uprising that preceded the exodus of 1994 – police and State Security agents stopped a number of dissidents near the Malecon as they entered the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, the only place that offers free internet to Cubans.

Obviously, the government has made it clear that they expected a different reaction from the European Union and Washington with regard to the recent humanitarian gesture. Maybe it is sending a message to remind them that, at any time and for any reason, they can once again fill the prisons with political prisoners.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by Tomás A.

August 10, 2010

The Face of Magical Realism / Ernesto Morales Licea

Yes, it’s magical realism. Sometimes more evident, sometimes less. But the way one lives on this island at times verges on the incredible, and one has to remember that we live in a land of exceptions, comic or ironic, cruel or terribly sad, where everything can be believed.

It so happens that a friend of mine recently realized that to be able to enjoy certain attractions in Cuba she needs to first show a passport certifying her status as a foreigner or a Cuban residing overseas. She learned her lesson during a visit to one of the hotels of warm beaches and frozen coconut desserts that most of her compatriots have never known.

She was on the arm of her husband, an Italian national she married in 2004, who she lives (to this day) legally in Cuba. Somebody else was also holding her hand: little Dimitri, their son, who’s 4-years-old.

Obviously she was able to visit that tropical paradise, located in Holguin province, thanks to her husband’s money. My friend is a dentist who graduated with a golden diploma. Her husband, a native of Florence, has worked in everything from fixing windows in the Galleria degli Uffizi to working as a mason. Words from his own mouth.

They both knew that her academic achievements were useless when it comes to paying for leisure activities or feeding Dimitri well. (I think I also know that, harsh as it seems, without his money the marriage would never have been possible). But this incident showed them that there were still some things to learn.

Damn the Florentine husband for believing in the enjoyments that one can so easily access in his home country. The moment he asked to use one of those fast jetskis we usually see in the hands of tourists, riding the waves of our beaches, he understood a harsh fact of life in Cuba, a fact George Orwell would describe thus: even though the hotel contract says all guests are equal, some guests are more equal than others.

The friendly hotel employee asked, before delivering the vehicle, to see both of their passports and their son’s. Taken aback, the husband showed him the bracelets worn by all guests. And then the employee patiently explained:

“Only foreigners or Cubans residing overseas can ride motor vehicles. Cubans can ride on a beach bicycle or a surf board, but not on anything with an engine. Cubans have access to the beach bikes, the surf boards, but not to anything with a motor.”

The Italian man tried in vain to explain (first calmly, then feeling insulted) that he had been living in Cuba for years with his wife and little Dimitri, and that this rule made no sense to him.

Of course, the hotel employee didn’t have any obligation to convince guests of the fairness of rules made by his superiors. Even more, he shouldn’t linger on their details to avoid giving away “sensitive” information. So without further ado he put on his tourism worker smile, and apologized for the inconvenience.

The three stared at each other, astonished. The Italian father and the 4-year-old kid (having both Italian and Cuban passports) could ride the waves under the shining sun on the jetski, while the Cuban mother would have to look on from the beach, maybe with a Mojito in her hand, maybe feeling anger and impotence strangling her throat.

Of course, none of this happened. The three went back to the pool, and other less restricted areas of the hotel. But between them, a blurred silence made things different. From now on nothing would be the same, there would be no true enjoyment after the humiliation suffered by the young lady.

Afterwards, talking about the event, someone opened Pandora’s box. A fearless worker dared to tell them about the origin of the rule: After the government allowed Cubans to stay in hotels previously open only to foreigners, the unthinkable happened.

A strong young man took a jetski to the water in an Holguín beach. Beachgoers saw the jetski gaining speed. What they didn’t see was that it stopped, someplace along the beach, to pick up a companion loaded with travel supplies, including fuel, water and food, and then set course for the horizon.

They were stopped by the Cuban Coast Guard, a few kilometers from the beach. Their final destination, and their punishment are unknown. What is known is that they both sent a clear message to the hotel executives, and of course to those of every other hotel in Cuba: in a country with a thirst for freedom, men will try to use even the faintest of opportunities. Sad, but so true.

From then on, the rule was applied without hesitation. Cubans must pay the same price as foreigners to enjoy these places that look like a postcard, regardless of the fact that they are almost unaffordable to most Cubans. Once inside they have the same rights than foreigners… except for the use of motorized water vehicles.

Poor country. It needs to soil the dignity of its children in order to keep them home. It needs to humiliate them, take their worth, put on them the label of potential deserters, because you can’t trust the intentions of an innocent looking beach-goer. And why can’t you? Because behind the look of innocence there might be a soul in need of freedom, of independence, that will risk his life and throw himself, like so many brothers, into the unforgiving sea.

I want to believe that after many Cuba Libres and watching cable TV, my friend started to feel better and decided to enjoy the amenities of the hotel. After all, she should know she was privileged to be able to, during her vacations, do something more than to vegetate in front of the TV, and stew in the heat.

But I refuse to accept that this country where the reality sometimes seems too much like a fictitious face, is the country we Cubans really deserve, and the country for which so many men gave their blood and their lives.

Translator: Xavier Noguer

August 9, 2010

Hearing at the Supreme Court / Yamil Domínguez

Written by: Yadaimí Domínguez

On August 10, the hearing was held before the Supreme Court to review the Appeal brought by our family and promoted by the First Vice Minister of Justice.

When the doors of the courtroom opened, we family and friends who had been waiting an hour for this tense moment began to enter; the prosecutor was waiting standing on the left side. He wanted to hide his face due to nerves, but it was very difficult to hide.

The lawyer  standing on the right side of the room took her seat. Although slightly nervous before a public that awaited her best presentation, but she felt very safe and confident, knowing she has the TRUTH, that just one more time needed to be exposed in order the achieve, everything that was depending on her: long-delayed justice.

The judges entered, took their respective seats, and started the Hearing. The prosecutor was exceedingly lax in his presentation. Among the atrocities he mentioned was that, “if Yamil intended to travel to Cancun, he had to prove that objective.” He also questioned the opinion of the Minister of Justice, in supporting the Appeal of a Case which apparently had no new elements.

I don’t have enough time to delve into each one of the barbarities uttered by this phenomenon but I will comment briefly on the two I just mentioned. About the first, it’s obvious that if Yamil was going to Cancun, he didn’t owe anyone a reason. Anyone who doubts this, would have to prove otherwise. Innocence is presumed under the law and the prosecutor has to demonstrate guilt through OBJECTIVE elements, and before an impartial court, with all the guarantees for the defense. Of course, the attorney, in her conclusions, made this very clear.

With respect to the second idiocy of the prosecutor that I mention in this post, it is clear that he pretended not to fully know Article 456 of Law 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act, or underestimated the level of knowledge of the laws on the part of the audience, or what is even worse, lacked the professional ethics and respect for the opinion of the First Vice-minister of Justice. Gentlemen, it is precisely the Causal 10 of Article 456 of Law 5, which constituted one of the precepts that led to the Review, saying that the Court had all the evidence that indicated the innocence of the accused and inexplicably, did not reflect it in his sentence, and in consequence the sentence was unjust. What new elements is the prosecutor talking about, if it is already in the causal record it doesn’t necessarily have to be new elements, because those there from the beginning were clearly visible and those the court ruled on, were they omitted in their opinion?

The defense again made a brilliant argument. She explained the technical issues of the operation of the GPA and dared to say, very respectfully, that there was tampering with regards to the expert witness who appeared at the trial on March 19, 2008. She also explained about the two weather reports, claiming that No. 31, produced by the instructor, corresponded to the Department of Forecasts; while Report No. 42 was issued by the Department of State of the Sea of the Meteorological Institute of Cuba. She made it clear that Yamil is innocent because even if he had entered the country illegally, the state of necessity of arriving at an international port, under circumstances that put his life in danger (bad weather) and which he couldn’t avoid, exonerated him from any criminal responsibility, according to Articles 22.1 and 215.2 of Law 62 (Penal Code).

Hopefully soon the Notorious Injustice of my brother’s case will be buried with the just opinion that will be issued by the 5 judges of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court, who participated in this review and who have the privilege of amending a judicial error, which should not have happened, much less been prolonged.

August 11, 2010

The Idiots / Reinaldo Escobar

As I have no talent, not even for beating out a rhythm on a door, the artists who play some instrument with virtuosity awaken feelings in me between admiration and envy. When, for example, Frank Fernández moves me with his interpretations of Sergei Rachmaninov or Frederic Chopin, I can hardly bear my own incapacity to do something similar. I feel like an idiot.

Maybe that’s why I was so surprised when, in the last session of the Cuban parliament, this remarkable artist, after expressing that he shared the emotions of all present, speaking to Fidel Castro confessed: “One feels like a half-wit when hearing your reasoning.” What is surprising and at the same time comforting is that, in my opinion, the ex-president wasn’t saying anything out of this world; his words were full of platitudes and enormous scientific, historic and political errors.

Could it be that anyone can play the piano well? I have not amassed the necessary merits to become a member of this parliament, but I am most optimistic; I already feel the touch of the keys under my fingers.

August 10, 2010

Guillermo Fariñas: I believe the European Union should maintain its Common Position on Cuba / Iván García

Psychologist and independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas, who was on hunger strike for four months while he demanded freedom for 26 political prisoners, is of the opinion that a step has been taken in favor of the political pulse that sustains the Cuban opposition in the face of the Castro government.

But Farinas is not completely satisfied. “The common position which the EU holds should be kept. It is an instrument of pressure that has produced results, the 27 nations of the European bloc should not give in. They should push further. The EU cannot be satisfied with the release of 52 prisoners of conscience,” points out Farinas, as he is seated in a wheelchair in his small office located inside his home.

The champion of hunger strikes in Cuba is already home. Guillermo Fariñas resides in a poor neighborhood, mostly made up of blacks, known as La Chirusa, in the city of Santa Clara, 270 kilometers from Havana.

His last hunger strike was his 23rd. And in one way or another, it has been the only one that has proved successful. “I was the first one to be surprised, when high ranking officials from the Catholic Church in the island called the intensive care room of the hospital I was in. They informed me about the decision of the government to free 52 prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003. They doubled the number I was demanding,” notes Guillermo.

According to Fariñas, the release of the political prisoners is a gesture of good-will by General Raul Castro. But “Coco” (as he is known in Cuba) still wants more.

“I think that the dissidence and the incipient social Cuban civil society should come together in regards to concrete objectives and ideas to demand of the government. For me, it is a fundamental point from which we now must advance and abolish all the laws in effect that in one way or another allow the regime to jail people only for publicly sharing their opinions and thinking differently,” believes the free psychologist and journalist.

At the moment, the life of Fariñas is returning to normal. Under a very strict diet, he is already eating meats, viands, and fruits- all in puree form. He currently weighs 74 kilos, but a blood clot situated very close to his heart’s arteries continues to worry the doctors.

“The attention given to me by the doctors during my stay in the hospital was more than professional. Despite the political and ideological differences, a familiarity was created that went beyond patient-doctor care. They actually respected me. In fact, when they released me from the hospital, they actually had a little good-bye party — without alcohol, of course,” jokes Farinas.

The recuperation process may take up to four months. Fariñas feels anxious. The doctors suggested that he should not go on lengthy trips. He is thinking of writing a few books. And also wishes to continue working for his press agency, Cubanacan Press.

One of his desires is to eat fried chicken drowned in potatoes. “I still can’t eat anything that is fried,” and he adds that he “appreciates the support of people from anywhere in the world that have joined him in solidarity. I also understand those who do not support hunger strikes as methods of pressure,” points out “Coco”.

Fariñas is not wholly complacent with the gesture of the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos. “I think that a more informed and more detailed judicial assessment should have been given to the families of the prisoners sent to Spain. Everything was rushed, and important and necessary details were classified as less crucial. Some of my brothers in the cause who are now in Spain are disappointed with their treatment. In the long run, things will return to normal. Let us be confident,” says Fariñas.

Alicia, his 74-year-old mother, along with a relative, help him get up from his wheelchair so that he can go eat. Before I leave I ask him: Guillermo, would it be safe to say that this has been your last hunger strike?

“No. If individual rights are still being violated, then the possibility of another hunger strike will be present. That is my weapon. And I shoot with that weapon.”

Ivan Garcia

Photo: EPA

Translated by Raul G.

August 8, 2010

The History of Amnesty International / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo by: Luis Felipe Rojas

It’s called Like Water on the Rock and it was written by Jonathan Power. It’s a book full of insinuations about the saintliness that Amnesty International represents for many suffering people. I rarely walk in to Cuban bookstores that sell books in dollars, but a friend of mine convinced me to do so, telling me that there were sales, books for about one convertible dollar. I found a biography of Churchill, a novel by Henry James, and this portrait of AI, that group of Human Rights that is on the verge of its 50th anniversary.

The book was prepared in honor of its 40th anniversary, and if it weren’t for its laudatory tone, it could have been a true jewel. Two of its best chapters are dedicated to China and Northern Ireland: precise, full of facts and testimonies that remind us of the best of English journalism, but also suffering an attack of unforgivable forgetfulness. Cuba is only mentioned once, on page 160 out of the more than 400 pages in the book, and it is only mentioned while it is being accused of supposedly assisting Latin American guerrillas.

It’s difficult to believe that a book that recounts four decades of the most prestigious human rights organization in the world fails to dedicate a single page about the oldest dictatorship in this hemisphere. Legal records, case studies, and fieldwork made up Mr. Power’s research of different AI committees. His mission was to verify all sorts of diverse assassinations and violations, and there is not one single mention of the country that has generated a shocking number of exiles, physical and mental tortures, political prisoners, and the heaviest set of information gags that this country denies.

It is a book published nearly nine years ago for the paper known as Debate. And now they sell it for almost the same price as a pound of pork costs the average Cuban.

It is a systematic forgetfulness, a State strategy. Soon, they’ll probably let us purchase the Bible, The Illiad, or History Will Absolve Me (LHMA)….we must be attentive.

*LHMA: The accusatory text which Fidel Castro had the opportunity to defend himself with when he violently assaulted a military barracks under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1953.

Translated by Raul G.

August 8, 2010

Official Citation / Iván García

On the morning of August 7th I found out that I was of interest to State Security. My neighbors in the area worriedly told me about two guys who looked like political police agents who were asking about me.

In Cuba, when the Special Services officially cite you, it is almost always with the purpose of sending a message of fear. A programmed relentless pursuit is set in motion to discourage people from continuing the work they have been doing, whether it be as a dissident or journalist.

Generally speaking, when someone is involved with these struggles they try to turn them into a rat. If they see that you continue standing firm with your ideas, then the task becomes trying to destabilize your beliefs through the use of tricks.

They might pressure your family, or shamelessly harass them. To be under the magnifying glass of Cuban Counter-Intelligence is a clear sign that the work that you carry out worries them.

I am a man who writes. I record stories of the decadent society in which I live, and I write about my perception of the situation in Cuba. I have a blog, titled Desde La Habana (‘From Havana’), where I spit out what I am thinking.

I also write for the online journal known as El Mundo America, a Spanish site that has over 24 million readers. That is something that really bothers those Cuban Security hard-liners.

Being a journalist in a closed society is the task of either an adventurer or a lunatic. In Cuba, there is a law, known as the “Gag Law”, which allows the government to jail you for up to 20 years for the sole reason of writing what you think.

I’m not a special guy. I’m not a hero. Nor a martyr. I have fears and phobias. Fifteen years of writing as an independent journalist has made me a lone wolf. A paranoiac sniper of people who surround me.

I don’t trust anyone. So much sickening distrust eventually wears me out. It is product of the patient labor of intrigue and hate carried out by the political police on the island so that you will never feel sure of yourself.

Being a dissident or a journalist without a boss puts you in a perennial state of siege. It stresses you out. Mentally and physically. You constantly try to guard what you love the most: your family. For you know that they might, and will, attack you through them.

I will be 45 on August 15th. At this point in my life, I am sure of what I want. I do not believe that an official citation (which demands that I present myself before a military counter-intelligence unit on August 9th at 9 AM, before Colonel Enrique) will change my personal decision of writing my thoughts about life in Cuba.

I don’t keep any secrets. I have not committed any crimes. In the meantime, I will continue informing. I am a prisoner of my labor.

Iván García

August 8, 2010

The True Home of All / Ernesto Morales Licea

One of the mistakes most often made by those who say they care about Cuba is what could be defined as taking the part for the whole. A kind of geographical and ideological synecdoche, which makes them assume, when they use the term “Cuba,” that they understand it correctly.

Too often I have heard something like, “I am a friend of Cuba,” on the part of many foreigners whose ideological positions, almost always on the left, bring them to the island in tight solidarity groups which they believe will allow them to know our reality.

I say they believe, and not idly: they believe they know it from their air-conditioned buses, taking pictures of Cubans who spend hours on the roads, scorched by the merciless sun, trying to travel from one place to another. They believe they know our reality staying in camps designed to sell them on the idea that they are haphazard, the same as any native might inhabit, when in fact their facilities and comforts are ensured with mathematical precision.

And they never tire of repeating, these pink-cheeked gentlemen, that they are “friends of Cuba.”

I must admit that the feeling that these naïfs inspire in me varies between pity and resentment. Pity because the blinders on their eyes prevents them from seeing that they are a part of a skillfully staged choreography; resentment because thanks to their excited reports of the marvels they have seen, they support, from abroad, a system they neither live in nor suffer.

How are they friends of Cuba? It is a question worth asking. First we must clarify if, in their own minds, Cuba is all of our Island, or if it is just the portion of paradise that the Government dictates they may learn about. If they are referring to the Cuba they perceive from their Transtur buses, always so shiny and nice looking, or that of the old people who sleep on station floors in hopes of getting some kind of transport.

But the oddest thing is when we actually put this question to them – Why do you call yourselves friends of Cuba? Or, What do you mean when you refer to Cuba? – their answers speak of ideological struggles, and thus, we understand something: these people with their cottony minds have robbed us of our country and have given it to those who govern us.

Of course it’s not too hard to understand the genesis of this mistake. A country that projects internationally an image of strict unanimity, that year after year elects the same Party leaders, that accepts what its mass media says with hardly a murmur (in public), must concede that for uninformed brains, Cuba is a single concept of rum, tobacco, mulatas, and Socialism or Death.

It is precisely for that reason, however, that I find the position of much of my compatriots illogical. Those who know better, those who have suffered to a greater or lesser extent.

A friend I admire recently posted a comment on this blog. It can still be read under La Felicidad del Corredor de Fondo. This friend now lives abroad, and on analyzing the conditions of my firing from the radio station, said, “It got a little out of hand (referring to me). We shouldn’t air our dirty laundry in public; we shouldn’t speak ill of our own home.”

That is to say: if one doesn’t agree with the way my country is governed, if one doesn’t accept the anemic freedoms they allow Cubans, and if one fights the hatred that emanates from the powers-that-be toward those who exercise their right to dissent, this is speaking ill of our own home.

I wonder what divine or earthly plan gave our leaders the ownership of this beautiful Island, such that those who don’t share their point of view are treated like those who speak ill of their own home. My home is my parents and friends. My home is Cubans of good heart, honest, smiling. My home is this beautiful country with its angry sun and its young, impetuous in their love. I also think it is the home of all of us. But under no concept can I identify The Battle of Ideas as my home, or the efforts of a few men to manage the whole country as if it were their private plantation.

In 1988, before a packed square in Santiago de Cuba, an Archbishop who, in the aftermath, many began to call, “His Excellency,” said a few works that still have a painful effect. His name is Pedro Meurice. Before Pope John Paul II summarized it in an electrifying way, brave and precise, what I could not say any better:

I see a growing number of Cubans who have confused the Fatherland with a party; the Nation with an historical process we have seen in recent decades, and culture with an ideology.

August 2, 2010

Post-Marambio Era / Yoani Sánchez

A week ago Max Marambio, alias El Guatón – The Fatso – was due to come to this Island, appear before a court, explain certain matters. The owner of the joint-venture company Río Zaza, however, has preferred the protection of his Chilean homeland, as he is an expert – like no one else – in the unpredictable results of putting oneself in the hands of Cuban justice. Accused of bribery, embezzlement, forgery of bank documents and fraud, he who was once the favored protégé of the Maximum Leader just received – instead of pats on the back – a warrant for his arrest.

I miss Marambio even without having known him, because with his departure the number of families on this Island who can drink a glass of milk whenever they like has been greatly reduced. The informal market that supplied itself from his warehouses collapsed as soon as he left, and the underground networks that diverted his products either dried up or doubled their prices. When the lieutenant colonel turned manager escaped to Santiago de Chile, we realized the role that this man – forged at the right hand of power – played in what we put on our tables. He didn’t do it for altruism, clearly, but at least he diversified the boring local production and managed to make a tetrapack something that was not a collector’s item.

Marambio’s fortune was amassed where Cubans cannot invest a single centavo: in those joint venture companies opened to those with foreign passports but not to those with national ones. His personal history was a preview of what we will see, a prediction of how ranking military will transform themselves – dressed in suits and ties – into ideology-free entrepreneurs. Despite his agility with yesterday’s weapons – a Kalashnikov, slogans, Marxist dogma – we remember him for other strategies: bank accounts, trading favors, investments. His former comrades in the struggle will show him no clemency when judging him in court, because the paunchy Chilean ended up turning himself into a commercial competitor, not to mention that he knows too many stories – secret ones – about them.

August 8, 2010

A Pause / Miriam Celaya

For some time I have wanted to pause to respond to some doubts from readers of this blog, a practice I would like to maintain but that I cannot exercise with the frequency I would like, due to my limited access to the internet. I am going to explain to you, because my readers deserve it, my general procedure for loading a post, making links, reading commentaries or answering correspondence, as well as my “political censorship.” Various opinions that could be confusing have come up and I like to clarify things.

Some readers believe that the blocking of our pages is a myth. That’s all well and good but the sites Desde Cuba and Voces Cubanas, the oldest and largest platforms in the Island’s alternative blogosphere, respectively, are blocked from here by the government, so that it is not possible to access them from inside Cuba, except from a place that has direct access to the satellite, or by detouring through an anonymous proxy at a public internet site. I can access my site sporadically, when some friends and supporters offer me a time when the first option exists (direct link without passing through the Cuban filters), in which case I administer the page myself and try to load posts, revise the links, and respond to some messages; or the times when I would buy a card to connect from a public place (usually a hotel), when I might be able to read my page and the comments (through an anonymous proxy) but I can’t administer my blog. Whenever I go try to maximize the short time available, so I bring the already-edited articles on a flash memory and even some messages I have written to those who write me, and I also download the commentaries to read at leisure at home. This is a primitive process, which explains the slowness and the reason I can’t update my blog more often.

Another option that I make use of is to appeal to a guardian angel who helps me: a Cuban who lives abroad and has the password to my blog and my complete trust. She has been a real support since shortly after the start of this blog and offers me more chances to get on with the work when I only have to use my email account to send posts and photos. At times, she herself looks for photos from the internet. This irreplaceable friend also “patrols” the site to remove the coarse and vulgar insults which at times – as some of the long-standing readers will recall – came to greatly contaminate the site, such that I asked her to do it. I’ve never removed someone’s comment simply because they don’t agree with me or for having a different political point of view. I don’t exclude even those who defend the system. That doesn’t seem democratic to me, truthful, nor do I believe it is healthy to censor anyone who maintains a respectful attitude. That would be inconsistent with the spirit of pluralism that I defend. If anyone of them (or others) has complaints about what they believe is the intentional omission of their opinions, they need to know that I don’t have enough connection time to devote myself to establishing filters nor have I ever revealed the identity (nor will I) of the commentators; for me that is strictly a question of ethics. I will ask my friend and “Cyber-Godmother” to review those details when she can, because she also has to work for a living and the hours she spends on this blog are taken from time she could be resting or spending with her family. I ask you, then, for your understanding and patience.

Someone has criticized my lack of participation in the comments. This is a choice I made because, in my capacity as hostess, I prefer to give my opinions in the posts and leave space in the comments for the readers, without interfering in the debate, with the intention of not imposing my presence or abusing my privilege as the owner of the site. When I thought it opportune to emphasize a theme or refer to the comments (as in this case), I have chosen to post a separate text and explain my reasons, which is the way I have to speak with all of you at once, although at times for various reasons I have singled out some and sent direct messages to them via email.

Finally, those who believe that perhaps I have other occupations, not just attending to this blog, are correct. I have a precious family to take care of (my number one priority), I work as an independent tourist guide to make some money from time to time, I read and research many things and am writing a novel for teenagers, an old project that I hope to complete in a year or a year and a half and that is more complicated than I thought it would be. My rare presence on-line however, is due to my lack of access. I greatly enjoy the time that I share with my readers; I hope the day will come in which a connection from my home is more than a dream. Thank you for coming to find me, for demanding more from me, and for your patience.

A hug,

Eva-Miriam

August 6, 2010

VOICES FLY TODAY FROM HAVANOTHING / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

1ndex:

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Reports from the horde on the ground.

Claudia Cadelo. Leaders of an alternative revolution.

Eduardo Laporte. I do not know what the dogs have.

Melkay. The best selection of the world.

Wendy Guerra. Between Perseverance and Virtues.

Ivan de la Nuez. The Near East.

Reinaldo Escobar. The scope of cyber-dissidence.

Emilio Ichikawa. Paper and screen.

Jorge Ferrer. To write a Cuban blog (Decalogue).

Yoani Sánchez. That one will never return.

Antonio José Ponte. A childhood without comics, an adolescence without pornography.

Juan Abreu. Pissed / Anal bleach / Nyotaimori.

Miriam Celaya. Open letter to the BBC.

Maikel Iglesias. Pinar del Rio City.

Jesus Diaz. Requiem.

Luis Marimon. The death of Yumurí.

Mirta Suquet. Prosperity and goodness: the other side of the coin of the

Martí enlightenment.

Miguel Iturria. Martí: spirituality and political manipulation.

Ernesto Morales. The happiness of the long distance runner.

Ena Lucia Portela. Hurricane.

Dimas Castellanos. The limits of inaction.

Yoss. Close but far away: the universe next door.

August 6 2010